first night

Ooook! Double Bill

Emma-Louise Howell reviews an evening of meta-theatre with Ooook Productions' Double Bill of plays.

Thankfully I was paying slightly more attention to Ooook!’s Comedy Double Bill than Birdboot and Moon! The duo of Durang’s The Actor’s Nightmare and Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound provided a satisfying evening of theatre that certainly entertained the audience. However, with a promise to be immersed in a world where 'the lines between fact and fiction, actor and audience are dangerously (and hilariously) blurred and twisted', I felt somewhat underwhelmed by the lack of concordance to this anticipated illusion.

The first act was dedicated to Bart Edge’s adaptation of The Actor’s Nightmare which follows George Spelvin, the unsuspecting understudy for a trio of classics, embark on his performance- without any knowledge of plot, characters or lines.

Edge’s direction was effective throughout the performance, compensating for the minimalistic set with purposeful movement and spacing. Although I felt there was little differentiation between reality and drama in the play within a play structure as all dialogue was presented through the standard proscenium arch staging. Perhaps greater audience involvement may have benefitted the play as a whole as the performance remained rather static throughout and scarcely differed in tone or pace, leaving a disappointing tendency to drag in sections.

This lack of invention, however, was compensated for through the masterful technical direction of Michael Nower. Despite the set merely consisting of one white sheet, the various lighting changes were most effective and altered the mood accordingly. I felt this was particularly effective during the paraphrased Shakespeare ‘soliloquy’ where Nower used several variations of spotlights to subtly alter the mood of the lengthy monologue and maintain the attention of the audience, often with great comic effect. It was such subtle, yet effective, insertions that rounded the production.

The success of this section would not have been attained without the skilful acting of Matthew Elliot-Ripley, however. The tone and pace of his delivery were most impressive and his comedic timing was excellent. Though, I felt previous aspects of Elliot-Ripley’s performance lacked equivalent energy and early scenes felt a little awkward as he possessed too much self-awareness for a character that was unaware of his standing. To overcome this, I feel greater use of pause and stutter would be more convincing as, ironically, he appeared to know his lines too well.

The cast, on the whole, was strong with Serena Gosling giving a memorable performance as an absurd bin lady. It was the exaggeration of Gosling’s facial expression and the faultlessly timed insertion of spoken stage directions that really made this character stand out and I thoroughly enjoyed her performance. I felt the ensemble cast would have benefited from equal exaggeration of characters to contrast the comparative naturalism of George to heighten the comedy of his utter theatrical oblivion, a feat obtained by Claire Forster’s Amanda but was clearly lacking in her portrayal of Ophelia. 

On the whole, Edge’s production was an entertaining watch, as reflected by the hearty laughter of the audience. Praise must go to the production team whose innovative lighting and impressive costumes really completed the performance.

The second act offered Tom Mander’s take on The Real Inspector Hound; a murder mystery that is being critiqued by two effervescent reviewers: Moon and Birdboot. The play unfolds as expected with murders, melodrama and mad men; yet the frequent interruptions by the critics soon amounted to their involvement in the play, and the murders.

The production of this play was well done throughout from the impressive set to small directorial inserts such as the mysterious Simon walking suspiciously behind open doors. Although I felt the energy dropped somewhat as such moments were forgotten and greater onstage action was necessary while the critics were speaking to make the audience feel as though Moon and Birdboot were actually interrupting the play, an essential comedic aspect of the production.

Nonetheless, the partnership of Moon and Birdboot, played by Abbie Weinstock and Ram Gupta respectively, was a delight to watch. The rapport between the two conflicting characters was charismatic and engaging, particularly Weinstock’s performance which exuded strong characterisation through dynamic facial expression and convincing tone which were extremely impressive. Yet I felt Gupta had a tendency to shout lines with pitchy intonation which detracted from his apparent authority over Moon.

This was clearly a strong cast and I enjoyed the exaggeration of the actors in the murder mystery play, particularly Lucy Knight’s portrayal of Felicity and Andy White’s highly comical Magnus, who was a favourite among the audience. Yet there was often a slight dip in pace and energy that detracted from the comedy significantly, particularly due to the repetitive nature of the script. This was true of the scene where Inspector Hound initially discovers the dead body, where I felt the reaction of all those onstage was slightly underwhelming as this section lends itself perfectly to effective black comedy.

Nonetheless, Mander did well in directing this entertaining production and evoked moments of hearty laughter. Despite the sometimes slow pace and lack of audience engagement, the production, as a whole, provided an enjoyable evening of entertainment.

4 December 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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